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August 29, 2016

Farmacology

by Anne Paddock

The most satisfying moment in any process of inquiry is not when one confirms an already held suspicion, but when one is surprised by a new reality.

Such is the lesson learned by Daphne Miller, MD, a practicing physician in California who set out to understand the connection between the farming system and our personal health in Farmacology, which was published in 2013. At the core of this book is the belief that “farming, at its best, can offer a bounty of valuable secrets for transforming our personal health and the practice of medicine.”

FarmacologyFarmacology is a 223-page book divided into 6 chapters that offer insight into six different facets of farming: biodynamic, holistic grazing, livestock and stress management, managing the invaders, urban farming, and natural medicines. By correlating these practices with the sustainability of life, the author tries to convince the reader to consider the complexity of our personal health and particularly, the importance of soil to our health.

In Jubilee: What a Biodynamic Farmer Taught Me About Rejuvenation, the author compares the health of two systems that need each other: the farm and the individual. To the untrained eye, a farm can look healthy just as a human being can look healthy to those who haven’t been trained to know what to look for. But, the trained eye knows what to look for and can ascertain whether a farm or a human being is healthy. It all comes down to looking at the whole rather than the components. Just as a soil test cannot guide the farmer to perfect soil health, neither can a single medical test that only focuses on one result because both the farming and human system are a sum of components deeply affected by the workings of each other.

In the second chapter, Rockin’ H: Raising Kids Bison Style for Maximum Resilience, the author puts forth evidence to support the belief that “each and every cog has some effect on the other parts that make up the whole.” This means that what we expose our children to and how we raise farm animals are not two independent process but instead two interrelated decisions that have long-lasting effects on personal health. For those with allergies and hyper sensitive immune systems, this chapter provides an plausible explanation of why there are so many asthmatics and people suffering from allergies.

For years, people have talked and written about the effects of stress on both our physical and mental health but the effects are often hard to understand unless visually seen so the author decides to visit two egg farms – a pasture-based laying hen farm and a factory egg farm – both of which inflict different types of stress on the birds. The differences between these two types of egg farming is astounding and yet, both are a source of great stress for which the birds endure approximately 63 weeks as layers (hens actively laying eggs) before they are slaughtered for human and animal food. Comparing the egg farms to the lives people live and correlating the two is a fascinating journey into the cost of tradeoffs in Heartland Egg and Arkansas Egg: Pasture-Based Stress Management.

The standard way to deal with pests in the fields that threaten the livelihood of the crops and the diseases that threaten our lives has traditionally been a full front on attack. We either cut it out or bombard it with chemicals. In Scribe Winery: Integrated Pest Management as a New Approach to Cancer Care, the author puts forth the hypothesis that instead of using methods that have the potential to hurt crops or our bodies in other ways, why not seek to strengthen the soil or the body in incremental steps as opposed to an all out pesticide or chemical assault? An interesting hypothesis for sure and one that has emerged rapidly in treating cancer patients but also one that has had little impact on the agribusiness that relies on predictability and yield over flavor and nutrition.

The emergence of CSA’s and urban farming is the hope of the future for those who understand the importance of fresh fruit, vegetables, and grains in our diet. In La Familia Verde Urban Farms: Community Medicine, One Plot at A Time, the author visits an urban farm in the Bronx and tells the reader how these small farms transformed a community. As she writes “…poverty and lack of opportunity are independently correlated with chronic disease and decreased life expectancy” while the public health benefits of community gardening translate into an increased likelihood that residents will eat more vegetables and fruits and therefore reap the health benefits of consuming fresh whole foods as opposed to processed foods laden with sugar and saturated fats.

The final chapter of the book – Morning Myst: What an Aromatic Herb Farmer Taught Me About Sustainable Beauty – explores the road less traveled: the benefit of local herbs on the human body. The standard go-to in our medical system is to take or apply a prescription that can have undesirable side effects. Correlating soil and skin – both of which have three major layers – the author explores the benefits of nature’s herbs and specifically hydrofoils (extracts made from distilling whole plants) which remove dirt and debris from skin but leave the protective layer intact while providing a cooling and astringent effect to the skin.

Farmacology is a book designed to make the reader think more about systems and the importance of soil for our livelihoods. There is no guide boat to achieving health in soil and body but there are a vast amount of interrelated components that we need to consider before embarking or supporting the synthetic processes that we rely so heavily on as we move forward.

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